A 6-way server and management-tool package

The HP Netserver LT 6000R 6-way server is Hewlett-Packard's (HP's) entry into the 4-way SMP server market. The Netserver's simple, lateral processor-placement design mitigates architectural constraints related to physical bus length and electrical specifications. The 4U (7") rack-mount server uses ServerWorks' ServerSet III HE chipset to accommodate two more processors than a 4-way system. These innovations let you place as many as six Intel Pentium III Xeon CPUs on a 26cm bus and leave adequate space for cooling.

The Netserver maintains a gated 100MHz path between the processor and RAM (you can't sidestep the Xeon processor's bus-speed limitation of 100MHz), but utilizes a 133MHz bus between I/O and RAM. The server's internal workings are innovative. Overall, the physical design simplifies installation and maintenance with tool-less rack-mount hardware and tool-less access to major assemblies within the unit. When you need to repair or upgrade major assemblies, you also can remove them from the chassis. Before you open the chassis, however, you need to unplug the I/O and power cables.

An integrated LCD control panel and three color-coded LEDs work together to display system status on the front panel, on which you also find the power and reset buttons and switches for operating the LCD control panel. You can open the hinged front panel to access a 32X CD-ROM drive and a 1.44MB 3.5" disk drive. On the back of the server, you'll find the integrated ports: one parallel and two serial ports, PS/2-style keyboard and mouse ports, an SVGA port, and a 10/100 NIC port. To facilitate my benchmark testing, HP installed three additional PCI 10/100 NICs into the unit that I tested.

Scalability Features
The review unit came with six 700MHz Pentium III Xeon CPUs with 2MB of Level 2 cache and 4GB of Error-Correcting Code (ECC) SDRAM. However, the system board can accommodate as much as 8GB of 133MHz ECC SDRAM for memory-intensive applications. The product offers six 64-bit PCI slots—four 33MHz slots and two 66MHz slots—for expansion. Two slots of each speed also support hot-plug PCI cards.

Four front-accessible hot-swappable drive shelves let you attach as much as 72GB of internal storage to the integrated dual-channel Ultra 2 SCSI HP NetRAID Controller. A 9.1GB 10,000rpm SCSI disk, which hosts the network operating system (NOS), occupies one of the four available hot-swappable disk-drive shelves. The test unit had an additional 21 drives of the same type installed in two HP Netserver Rack Storage/12 Ultra 2 chassis. The drives attached to a four-channel HP NetRAID-4M Controller with 128MB of cache. Three channels hosted five drives each, and one channel hosted five drives and a hot spare. I configured three, two-disk RAID 0 sets from the available drives: a set for the Windows 2000 pagefile, a set for the Microsoft SQL Server 7.0 application, and a set for the database. I configured the remainder of the available drives as a RAID 0+1 volume for the database transaction log's use.

Availability Features
Scalability and high performance are built in to the Netserver's 6-way design, but the package also includes a host of features for maximizing availability. The LT 6000R is the basic Netserver platform for high availability and clustering support. Three power supplies, standard on the LT 6000R, provide out-of-the-box redundancy. The Automatic Server Restart (ASR) capability automatically reboots the server if the NOS hangs.

The server's hot-swappable drive bays and integrated HP NetRAID-4M Controller increase storage availability. An advanced cooling system composed of six hot-swappable fans and two redundant fans, all with active fan-speed and -failure sensing, provides proactive defense against temperature-related component failures. The system conforms to the Intelligent Platform Management Interface (IPMI) specifications for component monitoring and management.

Manageability Features
HP offers an array of Netserver management tools, ranging from setup and configuration utilities to remote control hardware and software. The Netserver Navigator CD-ROM, which HP ships with the system, assists with configuring the server and installing the NOS, management agents, and utilities. The CD-ROM also includes TopTools Auto Alert 5.0, Local TopTools for Servers, TopTools Device Manager, OpenView ManageX Event Manager 4.2, and integration components for leading network- and system-management products. The Integrated Remote Assistant (IRA) provides remote access to the server for troubleshooting. I also looked at the optional TopTools Remote Control Card, which provides thorough remote-access functionality. I began my review of Netserver management with installation and configuration, then tested individual tools. The tools proved helpful, but the tools' names and functions were confusingly similar.

Installation and configuration. After I set up the hardware, I placed the Netserver Navigator CD-ROM in the server's CD-ROM drive and powered on the system. The server booted from the CD-ROM and brought up the Netserver Navigator Main Menu screen. A dialog box informed me that the CD-ROM contained a newer version of the system BIOS than the BIOS detected on the server. I clicked Help, which brought up a discussion of different methods for updating the BIOS; I decided to run the Configuration Assistant in Custom mode to perform the upgrade. I returned to the Netserver Navigator Main Menu screen and clicked Configuration Assistant and Installation Assistant. I selected Custom from the Configuration Assistant menu to begin the wizard-driven configuration.

The first phase of configuration gathered information about the type of NOS that I wanted to install. I selected Win2K Advanced Server, which resulted in a message recommending a fix for a Win2K- hardware compatibility issue and referring me to a Microsoft article describing the fix. Then, another message informed me of a possible system hang during the NOS installation. In the next Configuration Assistant screen, I chose automated mode for my NOS installation, which would eliminate the hang possibility and automatically apply the fix. The next screen displayed BIOS versions of different components in the system. The system BIOS was the only BIOS that required an update, which I performed by clicking Update. A process that took about 15 minutes updated the system BIOS and utility partition.

The server rebooted from the Netserver Navigator CD-ROM and displayed the next Configuration Assistant menu. The menu categorized configuration tasks—each of which had a button—as essential steps or recommended steps. The recommended steps included Update System BIOS (which I had completed already), Install/Update Utility Partition, Show System Information, and Show NOS Installation Instructions. After I completed these steps, I performed the three essential steps, which were Configure Remote Management, Configure Disk Array, and Install NOS.

I clicked Configure Remote Management, which brought up the configuration utility for IRA. Within that utility, I configured communication settings, administrator access, and event-management options.

I returned to the Configuration Assistant wizard and clicked Configure Disk Array, which launched the HP NetRAID Assistant program. HP NetRAID Assistant is an intuitive GUI for managing disks attached to the integrated NetRAID controller. I chose Wizard from the Configuration menu to simplify drive setup. After the new arrays were initialized, I exited the HP NetRAID Assistant and let the system perform the required reboot.

The system again booted to the Netserver Navigator CD-ROM and presented the Custom Configuration menu, from which I chose Install NOS. The automated NOS installation, which I had selected in an earlier configuration step, created a 2GB partition and formatted the partition with the FAT file system to accommodate the installation files. The system rebooted and launched the Installation Assistant. The Installation Assistant asked me to choose the file-system type for the Win2K AS partition and specify a new partition size. The automated-mode installation copied necessary files from the Netserver Navigator CD-ROM, then prompted me to put the Win2K AS CD-ROM in the CD-ROM drive. An Installation Assistant dialog box prompted me to enter addresses for one or more management consoles. These management consoles would be the recipients of Netserver alert messages.

I accepted the default setting to install Netserver Agents and Local TopTools for Servers, and the automated installation began. The Netserver Agents are behind the scenes but at the core of HP's management offerings; Netserver Agents monitor the system and communicate with the various management tools. Other than the usual questions I needed to answer about licensing and domain membership, the Win2K AS setup ran without intervention and installed all necessary drivers.

TopTools Auto Alert. I installed TopTools Auto Alert from the Netserver Navigator CD-ROM. Auto Alert provides alerts and advice to help prevent potential hardware and system problems. After I performed the required reboot, Auto Alert automatically launched and prompted me to name servers to monitor. I entered the Netserver's system name and immediately received a list of current alerts for my system. I could read advice about an alert, print an alert, clear an alert, or clear all alerts. If you configure a TopTools server to manage the Netserver, you can establish a connection to the managing server through Auto Alert. The Auto Alert utility is most useful for environments that don't have proactive management plans. The utility provides a simple way to monitor and manage a small office server for an organization that might not have a staff dedicated to IT management.

Local TopTools for Servers. From the Netserver's Windows Start menu, I opened Local TopTools for Servers, which the initial configuration and installation had set up. Local TopTools for Servers monitors only the Netserver on which it is installed (administrators use this tool from the server console).

Local TopTools for Servers uses a Web browser-based UI and provides interactive local management functions for HP servers. The six tabs at the top of the interface are Identity, Status, Configuration, Report, Tools, and Support. The Identity tab displays typical identification characteristics of the server (e.g., system name, model, uptime). The Status tab, which Figure 1 shows, lists event-log information and the status of storage devices and memory. The Configuration tab lists hardware-configuration information about the server, including details about the DIMM, NICs, drives, controllers, I/O ports, PCI bus, and drivers. The Report tab summarizes the details of server configuration and tracks changes to the configuration. The Tools tab lists other management and configuration utilities, categorizes each tool as online or offline, describes the tool's functionality, and tells you where you can find the tool. The final tab, Support, contains a link to the HP support Web site for the Netserver. The Support tab also includes templates for creating hyperlinks to reseller and internal-support sites.

TopTools Device Manager. Local TopTools for Servers' features might meet the management needs of small environments, but large corporate installations will want to leverage TopTools Device Manager to manage their HP hardware. (HP refers to TopTools Device Manager simply as TopTools.) This feature is a management enhancement that is free to HP hardware customers. Although TopTools can manage a large selection of HP devices, I tested only TopTools's ability to manage the Netserver system. A notable benefit of using TopTools is the ability it affords for managing all your Netserver systems from a centralized, Web-accessible console.

I downloaded TopTools 5.0 from HP's Web site (you can also get TopTools on a CD-ROM) and installed it on a custom-built computer running Win2K Server. After I downloaded the installation source, the installation process took about 5 minutes. The installation wizard was straightforward and prompted me to perform the necessary actions to complete the installation (e.g., insert the Win2K Server CD-ROM to enable SNMP support for TopTools). The final phase of installation required me to configure options for device discovery, including the discovery schedule, SNMP community information, and Desktop Management Interface (DMI) and Windows Management Interface (WMI) interrogation.

After a required reboot, I double-clicked the TopTools icon on my computer's desktop to open the Web browser-based TopTools console. I tested the centralized Web accessibility by opening this console from another workstation on my network. From the workstation, I could log on to the custom-built computer's Web-based TopTools interface, which let me select and manage the Netserver. As a result of the discovery process I had configured, TopTools detected and enumerated about 20 SNMP-enabled devices on the network.

Several methods will get you to the Management Home Page for your managed server. I chose to view devices by type, then selected Servers. I right-clicked the icon next to the Netserver's name and chose Management Home Page from the menu. This action brought up the TopTools page for my Netserver, which provided the same monitoring and management tools as Local TopTools for Servers.

OpenView ManageX Event Manager. Also on the Netserver Navigator CD-ROM is Event Manager, a NOS event-management console (a subset of the complete OpenView ManageX product, which monitors application events in addition to NOS events). I installed Event Manager on the Netserver. The Event Manager main interface contains a Command Queue window, a Device Selector window, and a Microsoft Management Console (MMC) snap-in, from which I could view Web-Based Enterprise Management (WBEM) data and performance data for all the systems on my network.

I followed the online documentation to configure Event Manager. Within the Device Selector window, I created a new alias called Test Servers, which included the Netserver system that I wanted to manage. I then browsed Event Manager's supplied event policies and opened a Windows NT service-related policy to view the events and conditional triggers and actions associated with that policy. Event Manager includes a variety of HP Cluster Management and NOS policies. You can use and modify only these included policies; you can't create new policies. I highlighted the Test Servers alias, right-clicked the policy, and chose Install from the resulting menu to deploy the aforementioned service policy to the aliased domain (which included the Netserver system).

Event Manager is a thorough tool for centralized management of NOS functionality. The combination of performance-data and WBEM presentation and policy-based event management make Event Manager an attractive add-on for Netserver owners.

Integrated Remote Assistant. HP designed the Netserver so that you can use a modem or serial cable to connect to the server's motherboard and perform management functions. I had configured communication and user-access settings during the initial server setup. To configure IRA, I first verified that the management port (COM2) was properly configured in the server's BIOS setup program. I used a null-modem cable to connect another Win2K system to the Netserver system. On the remote Win2K system, I configured HyperTerminal with the proper communication settings for establishing a terminal session with the IRA management port.

After I connected to the management port, I logged on, and IRA presented me with a menu of options: Show Event Log, Show Status, Console Redirection, Server Reset/Power Menu, Reboot to Utility Partition, Event Management Configuration, Administrator/Pager Configuration, Management Port Passthru, and Disconnect. These menu choices let me view important system statistics and perform administrative tasks from a remote terminal.

Figure 2 shows the Show Status information from an IRA HyperTerminal session. If you use a modem connection to IRA instead of a direct cable connection, you can configure IRA to send alert messages to an administrator's pager. IRA automatically enables the console redirection function for any text-based console. To enable graphics-based console redirection, you need to install Symantec's pcAnywhere32 software from the Netserver Navigator CD-ROM on the remote system and the Netserver system. To test the console redirection function, I performed a graceful shutdown, power off, and power on of the Netserver. At this point, the console redirection function sent the text-based power-on self test (POST) and OS startup messages to the remote IRA console. This functionality gives administrators extensive remote control over server operations.

TopTools Remote Control Card. For LAN-based remote access with additional flexibility, HP offers another option. TopTools Remote Control Card is a PCI card that you can add to the server to enable remote management of that server. The card has an onboard battery that is recharged through the PCI bus. The battery provides access to a Netserver system for an estimated 30 minutes to 60 minutes if the server system has no power. You can order an external 5-volt power supply if this time limit is insufficient for your installation.

I followed the instructions in the TopTools Remote Control User Guide for installing and configuring the card. The card communicates with the server's motherboard through the inter-integrated circuit/intelligent platform management bus (I2C/IPMB). I installed the card into an empty PCI slot on the server, then attached one end of the I2C/IPMB cable to the card and the other end to the motherboard. HP keys and color-codes the I2C/IPMB connectors on both devices to assist you with proper installation.

The card supports remote LAN connections and Point-to-Point Protocol (PPP) modem connections. I tested the LAN remote capabilities by connecting a 10Base-T cable from the card to a switch on the Lab network. As the server booted up, I pressed the Netserver's F3 key to enter the TopTools Remote Control setup routine. This text-based setup lets you configure LAN and modem access settings, remote boot settings, and firmware update settings. The LAN settings option showed DHCP as enabled and the card as leasing an IP address from a DHCP server. I manually entered a netmask and exited the setup routine, accepting the default operation of rebooting immediately for the configuration changes to take effect.

I then opened a Web browser from a system on the Lab network and entered the Remote Control Card's IP address, which brought up an interface almost identical to the Local TopTools for Servers interface. I followed the TopTools Remote Control User Guide's instructions for logging on as admin to establish user access for the Remote Control Card. Administrators can log on to the TopTools Remote Control Card from a Web browser and perform most of the same functions they can perform locally with Local TopTools for Servers.

Instead of a TopTools for Servers Report tab, however, TopTools Remote Control offers a Diagnostic tab for running memory scanning diagnostics. Instead of a Tools tab, TopTools Remote Control offers a Remote Control tab for controlling the server as if the administrator is physically at the server's console. From the Remote Control tab, you can start a Text Remote Console, start an NT Remote Console, view the last ASR screen, perform a memory dump, and perform server power operations. The Text Remote Console operates only when the server is in text mode (e.g., at a DOS screen).

For the NT Remote Console to function, you need to install and configure pcAnywhere32 on both the server and the remote client. Because you likely won't use both IRA and the TopTools Remote Control Card, the TopTools Remote Control Card package includes a license for one administrator to use the pcAnywhere32 application. I installed the host portion of the application on my server and configured the server to act as a host for graphics-based console redirection. I specified that when the administrator launches Windows, the system was to launch a host connection and run the connection minimized. I installed the pcAnywhere32 client software on my client system and configured a TCP/IP connection to the host. I could then launch an NT Remote Console redirection from the Remote Control tab of the View last ASR option to display the server's last blue screen of death on the remote client.

The NOS memory dump is for troubleshooting purposes. You use the memory dump only when the server isn't responding. You can also perform a reset, power on, power off, or power cycle from the Remote Control tab.

6-Way Performance
To test CPU scalability, I used Quest Software's Benchmark Factory to run an online transaction processing (OLTP) workload test under SQL Server 7.0 Enterprise Edition. I used 45 Intel Celeron 533MHz computers with 128MB of RAM each, running Win2K Professional, to act as workload generators against a database for 800 warehouses. I used Microsoft's Transaction Processing Performance Council (TPC) data-generation tool to create the database. I attached each rack of 15 clients to its own switched, 100Mbps Ethernet segment, to which I also attached one of the server's four NICs. I used Raritan Computer Systems' Paragon keyboard/video/mouse (KVM) switches, which use Category 5 UTP cables, to control the workload-generating clients and the Netserver.

I tested at each processor level, from one to six CPUs. With each number of processors, I ran a series of tests. I increased the number of workload generators from 100 to 1000 in increments of 100 generators and measured the transactions per second (tps) with each test. Each workload generator executed a stream of database transactions with a negative exponential think-time of 270 milliseconds (ms). Between each test iteration, I restored the database from a clean backup, rebooted the system, and cached the database in memory.

I had tuned the test process and the system's hardware and software configurations to optimize CPU throughput. The review unit's four-channel RAID controller, loaded with cache and drive spindles, also helped avoid a disk I/O bottleneck.

Graph 1 shows the test results. The maximum throughput for six CPUs was 2728.57tps. Using the maximum throughput of 648.21tps that I measured for one CPU, I calculated a 4.2 scalability factor for six CPUs. In other words, six CPUs can handle 4.2 times the work that one CPU can handle.

Impressions in Review
Even if you have an existing enterprise system or network management platform from a vendor other than HP, you probably can support HP hardware. HP offers tools for integrating its hardware with most management platforms; these integration tools are free to HP hardware owners.

The Netserver Navigator CD-ROM guided me through the server configuration and NOS installation with commendable clarity. The management tools' out-of-the-box functionalities also impressed me. TopTools for Servers, Event Manager, and IRA top my list of the most useful tools. The only problem I have with the management tools is the difficulty in distinguishing which tools serve which purposes. Many of the tools had TopTools as part of their names, which only compounded the confusion.

Several phone conversations with an HP representative clarified the positioning of the individual tools. Many times during my testing, I also referred to the thorough and well-organized CD-ROM documentation for the Netserver and its accessories. The PDF documentation provides viewable, printable, searchable content in a familiar, easy-to-use interface. HP also offers a broad choice of service and support plans to meet the needs of most customers.

The tool-free maintenance of the chassis also impressed me. My job would have been easier if I could have opened the motherboard section of the chassis without needing to remove KVM and network cables. Most users, however, won't need to open this section of the chassis as often as I did.

The street price of the review unit's configuration is about $55,600. This price is comparable to the price of some similarly equipped 4-way systems. Rationalizing buying a 4-way server, when you can get two more processors for a similar price, is difficult. Add to this value the Netserver's performance, availability, and manageability features, and you have a strong case for the product's worthiness in the enterprise data center.

Netserver LT 6000R
Contact: Hewlett-Packard * 970-635-1000 or 800-322-4772
Web: http://www.netserver.hp.com
Price: $55,623 for the tested configuration
Decision Summary
Pros: Strong manageability features; speedy configuration and installation; impressive performance and scalability
Cons: Confusing similarity between management tools; the need to unplug I/O cables before opening the chassis is cumbersome